World Class Awards

SAN FRANCISCO (05/26/2000) - Quick, what's the national pastime?

We say baseball still gets the nod, but computing is closing in. Both PCs and the Web are national obsessions these days, at home and at work. And just as baseball fans vote for the best of the best to play in the All-Star Game, PC World editors have been casting ballots to select the winners of our 18th annual World Class Awards. Over 70 outstanding hardware, software, and Web products make the cut--call them the buys of summer.

As always, performance, value, consistency, and innovation are the four qualities we seek in a World Class winner. Some products here are standouts in a couple of these areas, but the Product of the Year--Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Athlon processor--is a superstar in all four. Athlon-based PCs sprinted to the top of our corporate and home PC charts this year, touting record-breaking performance and affordable prices. And AMD's chip was the first to hit a clock speed of 1 gigahertz, beating Intel Corp. at its own game.

Our all-star lineup includes rookies (such as Adobe Systems Inc.'s InDesign, Handspring Inc.'s Visor Deluxe, and Microsoft Corp.'s IntelliMouse Optical) and veterans (including Adobe Photoshop, Dell Computer Corp.'s Dimension PCs, and Microsoft Office). New award categories this year for designer PCs, gadgets, and MP3 players reflect the move toward stylish, fun, and funky computing devices.

Another emerging trend: Web-based services are rapidly encroaching on the turf of desktop applications. Our top groupware product is the browser-based HotOffice, and we've added categories for Best Web Service (EFax) and Best Free E-Mail (Yahoo Mail). We're not saying that you'll never again have to trek to a computer store to purchase shrink-wrapped software. But a year from now, it could be a whole new ballgame.

Not every award winner here is...well, a winner. Y2K doomsayers, we're relieved to report, are our Losers of the Year (guess they'll have to save those candles and canned goods for the next millennium). Though the Y2K crowd edged out Microsoft for this award, the software giant has been declared a monopoly, and its fate will be decided by legal battles that could drag on for years. And in "Hits & Misses," we take a poke at the most irritating vendors, trends, and events of the past year.

But enough pregame show. Welcome to year 18 of the World Class Awards, PC fans.

Play ball!

by the Editors of PC World

Computers

* Best Corporate PC: HP Vectra series;

800/752-0900, www.hp.com/desktops

* Best Small-Business PC: Dell Dimension XPS series; 800/388-8542, www.dell.com* Best Home PC: Gateway Astro; 800/846-2000, www.gateway.com* Best Designer PC: Sony VAIO Slimtop series; 888/315-7669, www.sony.com/pc* Best Notebook: Gateway Solo 9300LS; 800/846-2000, www.gateway.com* Best Subnotebook: IBM ThinkPad 240; 800/426-7255 ext. 4751, www.ibm.com/pc/us/thinkpadThrowing out the ceremonial first pitch are this year's best PCs. Corporate users looking for a powerful starter will appreciate HP's Vectra series.

Priced at $2500 and up, Vectras sport built-in networking, an easy-off side panel for breezy upgrades, and a chassis-intrusion detection mechanism that automatically alerts your company's information systems crew when an unauthorized person opens the PC case.

With fast-paced Pentium III processors, Dell Dimension XPS PCs, starting around $1200, have more zip than a Randy Johnson fastball. Dell's big units offer good value for small-market teams and won't spend much time on injured reserve, thanks to the vendor's first-rate system reliability.

The Gateway Astro is a perfect fit for rookie home PC buyers. Its all-in-one case is a breeze to set up. And its low, sub-$800 price is tough to beat. For good looks and solid performance, we like Sony's VAIO Slimtop PCs best. Priced at $2500 and above, VAIO Slimtops offer innovative, svelte design; sleek flat-panel displays; and lots of storage.

For road trips, the extra-inning battery life of the $2848 Gateway Solo 9300LS lets you go the distance. If slim and light are key, the $1500-$2400 IBM ThinkPad 240 delivers: It weighs just a feathery 3 pounds, but its comfortable keyboard is nearly as big as those on notebooks twice its size.

Product Of The Year

AMD Athlon

It started as a spring phenom last season and it has only gotten stronger.

Today, AMD's fast Athlon CPU shows no sign of suffering from a sophomore jinx.

Architecturally superior to Intel's Pentium III, it's done for the high end what the company's K6 CPU did for the low end: set off intense competition where we all wanted it. The Athlon's performance means AMD can charge profit-making prices that are still low enough to keep Intel honest.

Consequently, IBM, Compaq, and others can offer reasonably priced and powerful consumer PCs. Let's just hope that AMD can meet demand and not blow its lead in the late innings.

System Basics

* Best Operating System: Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional; 800/426-9400, www.microsoft.com/windows2000* Best Application Suite: Microsoft Office 2000 Professional; 800/426-9400, www.microsoft.com* Best Utility: Ontrack SystemSuite 2000; 800/872-2599, www.ontrack.com* Best E-mail Software: Qualcomm Eudora 4.3; 800/238-3672, www.eudora.com* Best Web Browser: Microsoft Internet Explorer 5; 425/635-7123, www.microsoft.com/windows/IE* Best Antivirus Software: Norton AntiVirus 2000; 800/497-6180, www.symantec.com* Best Security Software: Network Ice BlackICE Defender; 650/532-4100, www.networkice.com* Best Input Device: Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical; 800/426-9400, www.microsoft.com/mouseYou can't make the plays without the basic PC products. Microsoft's Windows 2000 Professional ($319) is our top choice among operating systems; it combines Windows 9x user-friendliness with NT management and security. It's a natural fit for office systems and business-oriented notebooks, but home users can stay with Win 98 (or 95) for now. Keep any of these Windows versions in shape with the $60 Ontrack SystemSuite 2000. Its utilities work better as a team and have a deeper bench than those of rivals Norton and McAfee.

The best application suite is probably the one you already own. For new users, though, we like Microsoft's Office 2000 Professional ($599) best for its collaboration and Web integration tools. Internet software essentials include the $50 Qualcomm Eudora 4.3 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 5. Eudora fields e-mail with advanced filtering and color-coded labels; it can catch mail, account settings, and address books from Microsoft Outlook and Netscape Communicator. IE 5 delivers stability, speed, and a number of handy search tools.

Help your PC perform at 100 percent by installing Norton's AntiVirus 2000 ($40). It offers automatic e-mail scanning and handy update features. The $40 Network Ice BlackICE Defender foils gate-crashing Net intruders by maintaining constantly updated files of known hacking techniques and changing security levels in response to attacks.

Shuffle through apps with Microsoft's IntelliMouse Optical ($55); its electronic eye tracks movements over surfaces, and works for left- and right-handed batters.

Office Essentials

* Best Workgroup Monochrome Printer: Xerox DocuPrint N2125; 800/835-6100, www.xerox.com* Best Workgroup Color Printer: Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2 DeskLaser; 877/778-2687, www.qms.com* Best Personal Information Manager: Symantec ACT 2000; 877/386-8083, www.actsoftware.com* Best Business Accounting Software: Peachtree Complete Accounting 7; 800/228-0068, www.peachtree.com* Best Communications Software: LapLink 2000; 425/483-8088, www.laplink.com* Best Group Application: HotOffice;561/995-2220, www.hotoffice.comA great team deserves top-notch equipment--hardware and software that give it the edge that it needs. The $1299 Xerox DocuPrint N2125 laser printer punches out crisp monochrome text at a zippy 11.7 pages per minute, and it sweetens the deal with such useful paper-handling options as an envelope feeder and a duplexer. For workgroup color-printing, the $1104 Minolta-QMS Magicolor 2 DeskLaser produces handsome prints at a reasonable price.

On the software side, Symantec's ACT 2000 ($200) is a well-designed upgrade to a championship-caliber contact manager. Peachtree Complete Accounting 7 ($249) sports a sleek new look, plus features for helping businesses become e-businesses. For the telecommuters on your roster, LapLink 2000 ($169) adds even more Internet smarts to a veteran remote-access package. Players on the road can use HotOffice, a Web-based group application, for sharing calendars and contacts and for accessing (and keyword searching through) shared documents from any browser.

Trend Of The Year

Broadband Availability

For the Web-addicted among us, superfast, always-on Internet access is the hottest ticket this side of field-level seats at the Giants' new ballpark. And rival broadband technologies DSL and cable are finally evolving from a vague rumor into something more than a handful of users can get. Yes, glitches happen, security remains a concern, and monthly fees ($35 and up) aren't peanuts. But as broadband gradually blankets the country, the screech of a dial-up modem could become as rare as a baseball stadium built for speed, pitching, and defense.

Losers Of The Year

Y2K Doomsayers

They told us banks would fail and planes would tumble from the sky like lethal confetti. Were we nervous? Umm, slightly. When 1/1/2000 rolled around, however, nearly all of the world's computers turned out to be perfectly aware of what year it was. Maybe the billions invested in Y2K preparedness were well spent; maybe people overreacted. Either way, we have three words for those who built bunkers and hoarded rations: Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah.

Computingat Home

* Best Personal Finance Software: Intuit Quicken Deluxe 2000; 800/446-8848, www.quicken2000.com* Best Tax Software: H&R Block Financial's Kiplinger TaxCut Deluxe; 800/457-9525, www.taxcut.com* Best Reference Software: Microsoft Encarta 2000; 888/218-5617, www.encarta.com* Best Game: Electronic Arts The Sims; 800/245-4525, www.thesims.com* Best Ink Jet Printer: HP DeskJet 932C; 800/552-8500, www.hp.com* Best Personal Laser Printer: Brother HL-1240; 800/276-7746, www.brother.com* Best SOHO Networking Kit: Intel AnyPoint Home Network; 877/649-5817, www.intel.com/anypointKeep your home office in order with some useful software and hardware.

Intuit's Quicken Deluxe 2000 ($59) offers such features as employee stock option tracking and e-mail alerts about FTC stock-sale or purchase filings. H&R Block Financial's Kiplinger TaxCut Deluxe ($40) includes access to federal and state returns. A flat fee of about $20 gets you an advance of up to $5000 on any refund due from an electronically filed return.

As Casey Stengel used to say, "You can look it up!" That's surely true if you have Microsoft's Encarta 2000. For just $99, it has a 42,000-article encyclopedia, a dictionary with audio pronunciation, and an Interactive World Atlas that lets you magnify images to the level of street grids.

After working for 3 or 4 hours in the hot sun, your guys need a little recreation. We recommend Electronic Arts' The Sims ($50). Players create and develop the lives of virtual people, balancing their personalities and guiding them to success in friendship, finance, and romance.

Whether for statistics, fan mail, team logos, or lineup cards, there are always reasons to print. The $199 HP DeskJet 932C is our favorite ink jet printer, with an attractive if bulbous design, clear text, quick printing speed, and lifelike color graphics. For a personal laser, we recommend the Brother HL-1240. This $299 model prints clear, sharp text fast.

Now that you have your system ready to go, the best way to get everyone in the house online is the telephone line-based Intel AnyPoint Home Network. For $69 per PC, the parallel-port version networks two computers and delivers fast enough performance to handle multiple streaming audio and video applications.

Storage

* Best Hard Drive: Maxtor DiamondMax 60; 800/262-9867, www.maxtor.com* Best CD-RW Drive: Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32 EIDE; 888/675-3986, www.plextor.com* Best CD-ROM Drive: Toshiba XM-6702B; 949/457-0777, www.sdd.toshiba.com* Best DVD-ROM Drive: CenDyne CDI CD 00042; 714/979-7367, www.cendyne.com* Best Removable-Media Drive: Iomega Zip 250 USB; 800/697-8833, www.iomega.comThe storage game is all about putting up big numbers. The $329 Maxtor DiamondMax 60 IDE hard drive comes in at 60GB, making it 38GB bigger than last year's winner, a 34GB IBM Deskstar. And at a mere $5.50 per GB, this speedy performer is a terrific value to boot.

CD-RW drives--a promising rookie category two years ago--continue to make big strides in price, performance, and popularity this year. The $200 Plextor PlexWriter 8/4/32 EIDE is our top CD-RW choice; it's easy to install and provides a fast 8X write speed--useful when backing up files or burning CDs.

Serious digital-music fans will need a fast CD-ROM drive for extracting songs.

Our favorite, the $60 Toshiba XM-6702B, is a solid performer.

DVD-ROM drives sped faster this year, but a continued dearth of DVD software means you'll probably use your drive to watch movies or read CD-ROMs. Your best bet is CenDyne's CDI CD 00042 ($147), a competitively priced model with major-league speed and hassle-free installation.

The $180 Iomega Zip 250 USB rounds out our storage team. Bigger and faster than its predecessor (the 100MB Zip drive), it's an impact player on any team.

Display & Imaging

* Best Monitor: Sony CPD-E200; 888/476-6972, www.sony.com/displays* Best Flat-Panel Display: Sony SDM-N50; 888/476-6972, www.sony.com/displays* Best Graphics Board: Hercules 3D Prophet II GTS; 877/484-5536, www.hercules.com* Best Scanner: Epson Perfection 1200U; 800/463-7766, www.epson.com* Best Digital Camera: Nikon Coolpix 990; 800/645-6689, www.nikonusa.comIf your current graphics system leaves you squinting like a home-plate umpire, you'll appreciate our picks in display and imaging products. The winners feature state-of-the-art technology, beginning with Sony's CPD-E200--a 17-inch monitor that offers a gratifying combination of price and performance. In addition to its bold graphics quality, the CPD-E200 costs only $350.

Sony also takes center stage in the flat-panel display lineup, with a razor-thin 15-inch LCD, the SDM-N50. At $1499, this sleek but pricey model features built-in sensors that allow the unit to automatically adjust the panel's brightness, depending on the level of ambient light.

To help drive beautiful images on those monitors, get the $349 Hercules 3D Prophet II GTS. Its 32MB arsenal of high-speed DDR SDRAM helps it blaze ahead of the competition in 3D games such as Quake 3 Arena and Flight Simulator 2000.

Meanwhile, if you need to transform your important paper documents and photographs into digital files, give Epson's Perfection 1200U scanner a tryout.

This easy-t0-use workhorse delivers fast scanning capabilities, sharp color and detail, along with USB connectivity--all for a reasonable price of $249.

Last year, Nikon's Coolpix 950 took the World Class Award among digital cameras. This year, the Nikon Coolpix 990 edges out its predecessor. At $1000, it's not cheap, but this easy-to-use 3-megapixel camera captures some of the sharpest, most vibrant pictures we've seen. Although it's chunkier than the 950, it has USB for fast transfers.

Audio Additions

* Best Sound Card: Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live series; 800/998-5227, www.soundblaster.com* Best MP3 Player: Creative Labs Nomad II; 800/998-5227, www.nomadworld.com* Best PC Speakers: Klipsch ProMedia v.2-400 THX; 800/554-5665, www.klipsch.com* Best Voice Recognition Software: Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred 4; 800/437-2466, www.dragonsys.comThese days, we talk less to each other and listen more to our computers--but they had better sound good, or we'll tune them out. For a game-winning audio experience, you need a great sound card, and Creative Labs' Sound Blaster Live family of products is a good place to start. Teaming the same basic (but great-sounding) hardware with different software bundles, it fields an array of $99 cards designed for users with different special interests, from gaming to MP3.

MP3 enthusiasts will want to check out the $299 Creative Labs Nomad II. With 64MB of memory and support for both the MP3 and Windows Media audio standards crammed into a 3.2-ounce package, the Nomad II is hard to beat.

Our rookie of the year in PC speakers is the $250 Klipsch ProMedia v.2-400 THX duo. Its THX certification evidences studio-quality sound sharp enough to rival that of many home sound systems.

Computers don't just sound better these days, they've become better listeners, too. Dragon's NaturallySpeaking Preferred 4 ($169) can "learn" your voice in just 5 minutes of coaching. In addition to providing full-blown dictation capability, the software permits Web browsing via voice commands.

On the Road

* Best PDA: Handspring Visor Deluxe; 888/565-9393, www.handspring.com* Best Gadget: Think Outside Stowaway Keyboard; 760/431-9090, www.thinkoutside.com* Best PC Card Modem: 3Com Megahertz 56K Global GSM and Cellular Modem PC Card; 800/638-3266, www.3com.com/mobile* Best Wireless Communication Device: Research in Motion BlackBerry Wireless Handheld (model 950); 519/888-7465, www.rim.net* Best Projection System: InFocus LP330 Dragonfly; 800/294-6400, www.infocus.comThis year's mobile tools use innovative designs to help you take your home-field advantage with you on the road. For starters, consider a personal digital assistant. Although Palms still dominate the PDA market, the $249 Handspring Visor Deluxe stole the limelight this year. It does everything Palms can do and also offers the Springboard module for a useful hardware add-on such as a digital camera, a modem, or an MP3 player. The Visor comes in a guava-colored case.

Want to tote a keyboard with your Palm or Visor? Check out this year's best gadget, Think Outside's Stowaway Keyboard. This full-size $100 keyboard accordions down to the size of a PDA, making it easy to respond to e-mail or type notes while you bounce along on the team bus.

For notebook users looking to connect, we recommend 3Com's Megahertz 56K Global GSM and Cellular Modem PC Card. It's a bit expensive at $199, but this speedy performer is wireless, phone-ready, and both Windows- and Linux-compatible.

If you want to go the distance on the road with constant e-mail access, consider Research in Motion's BlackBerry Wireless Handheld (model 950). The $399 pager-esque device lets you send and receive e-mail, check your calendar, or (for an additional $40 per month) surf the Web--all remotely. The screen is small, but a QWERTY keyboard and lightweight construction make this unique device functional.

Perhaps your mobile mission requires a presentation that delivers. For $5499, the InFocus Dragonfly LP300 projector weighs in at a trim 4.8 pounds and comes loaded with a manual zoom, built-in speaker and video inputs, and a convenient wireless remote control device.

Graphics & Publishing

* Best Business Graphics Software: Microsoft Visio 2000 Standard Edition; 800/248-4746, www.microsoft.com/visio* Best Image Editing Software (tie): Adobe Photoshop 5.5; 800/492-3623, www.adobe.comJasc Paint Shop Pro 6; 800/622-2793, www.jasc.com* Best Drawing Software: CorelDraw 9 Graphics Suite; 800/772-6735, www.corel.com* Best Web Design Software: Macromedia Dreamweaver 3 Fireworks 3 Studio; 800/457-1774, www.macromedia.com* Best Desktop Publishing Software: Adobe InDesign 1.5; 800/562-3623, www.adobe.comA few veteran players dominate big-league design and publishing software. In the business world, the $199 Microsoft Visio 2000 Standard Edition comes to bat as a great diagramming tool with a slick new interface, Web features that enable you to convert diagrams to HTML, and faster drawing speeds. Who says flowcharts are boring? Not Microsoft, which just acquired this product.

It seems as though Photoshop has been synonymous with photo editing since the Dodgers moved to the West Coast. Adobe Photoshop 5.5 continues the tradition.

In this version, Adobe augments Photoshop's already rich feature set with ImageReady 2, its high-end Web graphics application, giving 5.5 a full suite of Web capabilities. While Photoshop comes with a large-market price tag--$609--the $99 Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 is much kinder to your wallet and still packs quite a punch as a full-featured image editor. Paint Shop Pro takes the extra base, too, by doubling as a drawing program with vector illustration features.

In professional illustration, CorelDraw 9 Graphics Suite remains a clutch performer. For $470, this do-everything product combines the popular CorelDraw and Photo-Paint in one tightly integrated illustration, photo-editing, and painting package. Macromedia's Dreamweaver 3 Fireworks 3 Studio offers another outstanding partnership. This $399 package unites Dreamweaver's Web authoring and Fireworks' Web graphics so you can shorten download time, keep designs consistent, and gain unmatched control over Web pages' HTML code.

The only newcomer to our design and publishing lineup, the $699 Adobe InDesign 1.5, is a budding star among desktop publishing tools, with powerful navigational features, Adobe .pdf output, and multiple levels of undo. It also integrates seamlessly with Adobe's graphics apps.

Internet Tool Kit

* Best ISP: EarthLink; 800/395-8425, www.earthlink.net* Best Modem: S3 Diamond SupraExpress 56e; 800/468-5846, www.diamondmm.com* Best Free Web Service: EFax; www.efax.com* Best Free E-mail: Yahoo Mail; mail.yahoo.com* Best Freeware: Zone Labs ZoneAlarm 2;415/547-0050, www.zonelabs.com* Best Internet Utility: AskSam Systems SurfSaver Pro 2; 800/800-1997, www.surfsaver.comWith new Web sites popping up continually and broadband spreading like pennant fever countrywide, now's the time to upgrade your Internet tools. Whether free or not, these products and services make Web surfing sweeter.

To get online, try our favorite ISP, EarthLink, which boosted its cachet by acquiring the number-two national ISP, MindSpring. A new modem can perk up connections, too; we favor the S3 Diamond SupraExpress 56e ($100) for swift download speed and ease of installation.

EFax's free service uses a simple setup to receive e-mail, faxes, and voice mail in one in-box. Yahoo Mail, beyond its easy, no-cost e-mail interface, offers a wealth of features, including an outstanding contact manager. Another steal is Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm 2, a simple, effective, and free personal firewall that protects your PC on the Net.

For $30, AskSam Systems' SurfSaver Pro 2 will save Web pages on your hard drive for offline browsing and near-instantaneous searching. (There's also a free version, but it has advertisements.)Web Sites* Best Web Portal: Yahoo.com; www.yahoo.com* Best News and Information Site: CNN.com; www.cnn.com* Best Shopping Sites (tie): Amazon.com; www.amazon.com EBay.com; www.ebay.com* Best Travel Site: Expedia.com; www.expedia.com* Best Recreational Site: Shockwave.com; www.shockwave.com* Best Online Computer Store: PC Connection; 888/213-0260, www.pcconnection.comNotwithstanding the continuing emergence of new Web sites and services trying to become contenders, most of our World Class picks have been around for years.

Yahoo.com, the top portal, sustains its excellence as a search engine, e-mail provider, and auction house and continues to add new features such as next-generation wireless access.

Formerly known as CNN Interactive, Ted Turner's online dynasty goes by CNN.com these days. But like Turner's Atlanta Braves, it's still a powerhouse; in fact, we think it's the best source for news on the Web. (Full disclosure: PC World's parent company, International Data Group, provides most of the technology content for CNN.com.)Both of our shopping site winners, Amazon.com and EBay.com, overcame injury-plagued seasons to capture a share of first place. Both endured their share of foul-ups this year--including denial-of-service attacks that rendered their sites unreachable for a few hours. Still, they continue to delight hordes of fans.

Dive into Expedia.com's vast wealth of travel planning information, and you will start longing for your current homestand to come to an end. Expedia.com hits a round-tripper by finding the lowest fares, handling all of your trip details as a one-stop shop, and being superfast.

If you just can't come up with the time to get away on vacation, Shockwave.com offers a wealth of entertainment when you're stuck at home. If the site's online radio stations and animated film shorts, including mini-episodes of South Park, don't grab you, its classic arcade games should fit the bill. Hop online for a couple of games of Joust or Defender, free of charge.

Finding the right place to buy your hardware and software can prove a little more difficult than tracking down MP3s. PC Connection paints the corners with its online store and print catalog, offering a terrific selection of computers, peripherals, and software--along with nice prices and overnight delivery. And even though the store does not offer online custom-configuration tools for PCs (yet), a quick call to its toll-free 24-hour sales line allows you to pick the components that you want on your team.

Service & Support

* Best PC Support: Dell

* Best Software Support: Microsoft

Before handing over your credit card to make that final PC purchase, it's a good idea to run a background check on the service and support policies of the company that you have in mind. In our most recent Reliability and Service survey (see "PC Reliability and Service: Things Fall Apart," page 114), our readers reported that Dell still provides the best support for desktops and notebooks. And when we asked readers to rate software vendors' service and support, the biggest software company of them all, Microsoft, received top marks.

Hits & Misses

Every season has its ups and downs. Here we look back at some of the past year's most memorable events and bonehead plays in the PC industry--from the funniest dot-com ads to absurd technological innovations and unfortunate copycats.

FOR BEST MAKEOVER of a Formerly Ho-Hum Product, Microsoft's $109 Works Suite 2000 gets our nod. The update turned a much-maligned suite into a comeback-package-of-the-year many of us would be proud to own. Kudos to Microsoft for finally giving us what we wanted: a cheap way to get Word on a new PC, along with extras like Money and Encarta.

CD-RW DRIVES earn our Most Likely to Kill Other Removable-Media Storage Options Award. Not only have they plummeted in price--to less than $200--but they provide an attractive alternative for storing MP3 music tracks and archiving other important data.

APPROXIMATELY 450 million Web site ads came out in the past year, all vying to be Most Amusing Dot-Com Advertisement. We liked exactly three. E-Trade's ER-themed "money out the wazoo" ad wins the series, though it's hard not to crack a smile every time you see that Pets.com sock puppet. EDS's stellar cat-herding ad was disqualified after judges learned that the company is technically not a dot-com.

IT'S ABOUT BLOODY TIME Award goes to PC vendors--namely Compaq, Dell, and Sony--who've warmed up to the idea that beige isn't everyone's hue.

BEST TECHNOLOGY That Might Be Illegal Soon: Despite My.MP3.com's and Napster's legal troubles, accessing anyone's CD collection via Web connection was très cool.

THE BEST TECHNOLOGY Burned Up During Reentry Award goes to Iridium, which let its $5 billion satellite network fall from the sky after not getting enough money to keep it in orbit. People just didn't want to pay $1200 for a mobile phone, even if they could use it from Antarctica.

THE NEWLY MERGED AOL/Time Warner monolith gets our vote as Company Most Likely to Inspire George Orwell References. The marriage of an online behemoth and a traditional media giant will create the largest media conglomerate around. The supercompany isn't just in a league of its own--it should be eligible for membership in NATO any day now.

DON'T LET THE DOOR Hit You on the Way Out Award goes to Packard Bell, a PC company that merged with NEC and then single-handedly improved the industry's service and support by dropping out of the U.S. market last year.

AMAZON.COM gets the We Have Now Patented the Words A, An, and The Award for patenting one-click technology--the idea of paying for something online with one click. Another patent we imagine it applied for: No-scroll technology (a page that fits on your screen).

EMACHINES earns our Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Product Design Award for building the iMac...er, EOne. Our read: You can try to clone Big Mac, but if it hits like Mario Mendoza, maybe it is Mario Mendoza.

ADOBE INDESIGN 1.5 features solid navigation tools, multiple levels of undo, and .pdf output.

Most Promising Newcomers

Hardware: Handspring Visor Deluxe

Handspring's Visor Deluxe offers an object lesson in how the game changes.

Though nothing is radically innovative about this PDA from the inventors of Palm Pilot, the well-conceived package--a tweaked version of the Palm software, slick case design, and low price--is the most sought-after palmtop of the year.

Call it the best Palm that Palm Computing never built. Look for the Visor to get even cooler as more add-ins for its Springboard slot (such as a wireless modem module) hit the market. Handspring; 888/565-9393, www.handspring.comSoftware: Corel Linux OSWhen we picked Linux as last year's Most Promising Software Newcomer, we cautioned that the Open Source operating system wasn't quite ready for the big leagues. With the release of Corel Linux OS, that's starting to change. Corel emphasizes user-friendliness, with a fast and easy setup routine, a superintuitive version of the KDE user interface, and a specialized tool for downloading updates and patches. The initial release choked on some cutting-edge hardware, but recent updates should banish most setup woes. Most of us won't ditch Windows just yet, but trying this upstart OS is easier than ever: Purchase Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux, and you get the OS for free. Corel; 800/772-6735, www.linux.corel.comInternet: Zero-Knowledge Systems FreedomPrivacy was on the minds of PC users this year--and Zero-Knowledge Systems Freedom protects yours like nobody's business. The $50 software creates a pseudonymous digital identity, called a nym, that lets you surf the Web, send e-mail, chat, and use newsgroups without leaving a trace. Freedom routes your data through a network of 150 servers; Zero-Knowledge never knows its source or destination. Your identity remains secret, and personal info will not make its way into the wrong hands. Not just for the paranoid, Freedom offers peace of mind in the nosy, invasive world of the Web. Zero-Knowledge Systems; 514/286-2636, www.zeroknowledge.com.

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